October 11, 2022

Which plumbers make the most money?

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So you’re interested in getting into plumbing. Or perhaps you’re curious about how much your favourite tradie makes. Or maybe you’re looking to move into a different plumbing specialism. Whatever your reasons, having an understanding of what you can earn as a plumber and how pay varies between specialisms, is an important question.

So, let's get into the answers.

The plumbers who earn the most money are those who specialise as domestic plumbers, earning an average of £35,042 per year. Commercial and maintenance/service plumbers also make good money but are slightly behind, taking home £34,373 and £32,057 respectively.

These figures are based on averages from a number of different job sites and of course, in reality, may vary significantly from the numbers shown. However, these numbers provide a good guide as to the average of what you might earn within each specialisation.

There are of course a number of other factors that will influence the total take home for a UK plumber, including experience in the industry, location and whether you work for a company or are self-employed. We will go into these other variables later in this blog.

If you are interested to find out how these figures compare with those in the electrical industry have a look at our twin blog looking at which electricians earn the most with a similar breakdown of the figures.

Or, if you want to see how both these trade careers stack up on the global stage, check out our comparison blog with data taken from 5 different continents.

What types of plumbers are there?

If you’re new to the plumbing industry or just want to find out a bit more about what plumbers do and how the industry works, then you may not have realised that the man or woman who comes to fix your boiler is actually not just a plumber.

In fact, within the industry, there are a number of different specialisms a person can go into. But what are these different types of plumbers and what is the difference between them?

Of course, like any industry, there are many niches and specialists who each perform a slightly different role or service, but to make things straight forward we’re going to separate the industry into 3 main groups: domestic, commercial and maintenance.

Domestic

Sometimes referred to as residential plumbers, domestic plumbers are probably the most common in the industry and are the specialists you’re most likely to be involved with.

These types of plumbers tend to work on small-scale jobs such as fixing a leaky toilet or checking your home's boiler. As implied by the name, these plumber work in the domestic setting, within homes or housing blocks. They ensure that the water system in your house functions properly.

Commercial

Commercial plumbers work on bigger projects, such as at schools, hospitals, colleges and manufacturing plants. These kinds of plumbers have to work with much more large-scale projects than their domestic compatriots, having to repair and install far more piping and more complex systems. They also have a responsibility to maintain and service the systems they have put in place.

Maintenance

This subsect of plumbers is the category people often get most confused by as their job role is less easily defined into separate places of work. A maintenance plumber (often referred to as a service and repair plumber), is there to fix plumbing issues when something goes wrong.

They operate across both commercial and domestic settings and have the expertise to deal with plumbing problems and emergencies.

Sometimes people get confused between maintenance and domestic plumbers. The key to understanding the difference is that maintenance specialists deal with emergencies whereas the domestic worker can work on broader projects, such as fitting a new boiler.

All three types of plumber have an understanding of the work of the other specialists and share many of the same skills, however, as specialists, each niche is able to bring more refined skills to the specialism they work on.

What types of plumbers make the most money?

If you search for this question online, you may find it quite difficult to pin down a concrete answer.

The problem is the data that is available is quite varied and getting an accurate answer can be hard to come by. Furthermore, as we mentioned earlier in this blog, establishing which factors to measure against will affect the results you get.

To find a suitable answer, we took the time to look through a range of different job sites and compared advertised salaries across plumbing job types. To make things easy, we’ve grouped the data into different categories and have taken averages from our results.

Commercial Domestic Maintenance
Adzuna £35,573 £39,140 £32,217
Reed £34,468 £35,753 £32,059
Talent £33,150 £32,500 £30,055
Totaljobs £34,303 £32,776 £33,897
Average £34,373 £35,042 £32,057

Based on these results, it would suggest that domestic plumbers earn the most in the UK. However, we should note that in two out of four of our results it was commercial plumbers that came out on top, so it is hard to say definitively that domestic plumbers earn the most.

The reality is that plumbing salaries vary significantly depending on the job that’s being worked on and who the plumber is working for.

Do plumbers earn more as employees or self-employed?

Generally speaking, a plumber will earn more working as a self-employed sole trader than as an employee of a limited company.

According to a recent study by Hudson Contracts, self-employed plumbers earn on average £47,000 a year. Compare this to the average for tradies employed by a business, who earn around £31,000, and things look a lot better for self-employed workers. However, it is worth adding a caveat to this.

As they gain experience, plumbers tend to leave their employment with a business and go alone as sole traders. As experience is accumulated it becomes easier to work for yourself and take home a greater income.

This is why, in general, employees of a plumbing business tend to be more junior and therefore earn less.  A very successful plumber who runs their own business on the other hand can earn as much as £85,000 or more per year.

So in short, yes, self-employed plumbers tend to earn more but this is in part due to the experience self-employed plumbers are able to accumulate that allows them to make it alone.

How much do experienced plumbers make?

When starting out as a plumber, don’t expect to earn the big bucks right away. Like all good things, making good money as a plumber takes time. As you start out, your experience will be less and therefore the ability to demand a higher salary is reduced.

As you gain experience, you will be able to increase your prices and earn more. There is, however, a limit on how much your prices can increase, as increased experience doesn't equal an indefinite increase in salary.

So how much do plumbing salaries increase with experience and what take-home can you expect to start out with when you enter the industry?

As an 18-year-old, first starting out as a plumber, you can expect to earn as little as £12,500 a year. This increases yearly for around the next 10 to 20 years, with 22 to 29-year-olds earning approximately £25,000, which then increases to £30,000 - £40,000 for 30 to 39-year-olds.

Salary then remains roughly the same until a plumber reaches over 60 when earnings tend to decline. This is likely due to a combination of retirement, and reduced working hours, as older plumbers may find working long hours and servicing many customers harder to maintain, leading to a reduced take home.

Graph and data taken from Checkasalary.co.uk

As mentioned before, it’s important to remember that these figures are based on averages. For those who work as self-employed plumbers or even run their own businesses, salary earned can increase to significantly more.

Where do plumbers make the most money?

In the UK, the region where a plumber will earn the most money, is London, with these tradies taking home on average £37,189 a year. However, it is important to remember that the cost of living in London is also much higher. When you factor this in, the take home for plumbers in London is more like £8,821, which is significantly less than in other UK cities.

*Please note that the cost of living data used is an approximation and will vary depending on a number of different factors. These approximations are based on a one-person family.

City Average salary Cost of living * Take home
London £37,189 £28,368 £8,821
Oxford £36,872 £20,532 £16,340
Reading £34,130 £19,800 £14,330
Norwich £35,570 £17,136 £18,434
Cambridge £34,273 £21,048 £13,225
Southampton £36,512 £18,072 £18,440
Brighton £35,160 £21,360 £13,800
Plymouth £32,822 £15,336 £17,486
Cardiff £34,312 £16,248 £18,064
Bristol £36,308 £19,776 £16,532
Birmingham £32,708 £15,852 £16,856
Sheffield £34,491 £15,384 £19,107
Manchester £35,661 £17,280 £18,381
Liverpool £32,860 £15,756 £17,104
Leeds £34,210 £16,356 £17,854
Newcastle £34,765 £14,748 £20,017
Glasgow £34,505 £16,332 £18,173
Edinburgh £36,521 £17,448 £19,073

Salary data taken from averages across job comparison and salary sites: Adzuna, Reed and Checkasalary.co.uk. Cost of living calculated from Numbeo.

When we consider the cost of living, the best location for a plumber to make money looks quite different. With a net income of £20,017 per year, Newcastle tops the charts, making it the best location for plumbers to make the most money.

Coming in close behind it’s Sheffield, followed by Edinburgh. Working in either city will earn you in the region of £19,000 per year.

The worst cities for plumbing salaries are Brighton, Cambridge and London. London earnings are way down at just under £9,000 per year.

Brighton and Cambridge are slightly better at around £13,500 but are still way below the average of £16,780 per year.

If you’re not in a top 3 earning city and you're looking to maximise your income, there are some simple steps that you can take to make more - and they don’t involve moving to Newcastle! Read our blog to find out the 7 money-saving tips we recommend.

How to get into plumbing

In the UK if you’re interested in getting into plumbing there are a number of possible routes you can take to become qualified.

According to the national careers service, there are four different methods you can use to get into the industry. You can join a college course, complete an apprenticeship, work towards the role or apply directly.

College courses

In 2022 the most common route into the industry is by completing a college course. These courses usually last between 1 to 2 years however you can become qualified in 8 to 10 weeks if you choose to take a fast-track course.

If you’re not sure where to start when looking for courses, a great place to go is via the national careers service course finder. Just search “plumbing” and have a look over the courses provided. Be sure to double-check that these courses qualify you to the standard you require and check what level of experience is needed before signing up.

We recommend using the national careers service as it’s an approved website, that will show you reputable courses rather than some of the alternatives that aren’t always worth the money.

Apprenticeships

If you’re interested in apprenticeships bear in mind that these are increasingly hard to come by due to the lack of funding available. They are also far easier to join for those aged between 16 to 18 as the businesses that provide the apprenticeship receive more funding for younger apprentices.

If you are interested in starting an apprenticeship, these usually take between 1 to 5 years depending on the level of the apprenticeship you undertake. Find out more at Gov.uk.

Work towards the role

Becoming a plumber using this method will require a business or experienced plumber to take you on as an assistant or ‘mate’.

This method is similar to an apprenticeship but involves no formal training. You will need to pick up the requirements of the industry by watching and learning on the job.

Please be aware that pursuing a career in plumbing this way will not provide you with an official qualification and may make it more difficult to find work or change jobs.

We would only recommend entering the industry via this method if there is the opportunity to take up a full job with the plumber or business that trains you after completing your training.

Direct application

This method only really applies to a small minority of people.

To apply directly for plumbing jobs, you will need considerable previous experience in the industry or at the very least significant relevant experience working in a related industry such as building services or heating and ventilation engineering.

This route into the industry is probably most relevant to those coming from abroad with previous plumbing experience who are looking to start out in the UK.

If you're looking to start your own plumbing business then check out our blog covering 12 key factors needed to get your business up and running.

Conclusion

So taking into account all the different factors, the ideal plumber who in theory would be likely to earn the most money, would be a domestic plumber aged between 30 to 50 who works in Newcastle and runs their own business.

It’s also worth noting that the statistics show that men in the plumbing industry still earn far more than women, so the highest-earning plumber is very likely to be a man.

For a full breakdown of female salaries within the trade industry and how they compare, take a look at our blog on women in trade.

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